Bird of the Year: Why it’s such an important competition
Every year the Bird of the Year competition grips the nation in a wave of fun and research as we all pick our favourite flying (or flightless) friend. This year’s result has just been announced, and we couldn’t be more pleased for the cheeky Kea.
Congratulations to the Kea!
It’s no wonder how the Kea has made it into the hearts of New Zealanders around the country. This beautiful alpine parrot is native to the country, and there are just 3,000-7,000 Kea left, making it a nationally endangered species.
They are one of the most clever and inquisitive birds around, which often gets them in trouble, and is almost always the cause of laughter and entertainment when you spot one of these cheeky parrots taking off with a stolen biscuit or treasure. They are also the cause of plenty of damage, as they love to nip and tear at car parts they find in ski fields, much to the chagrin of tired skiiers at the end of a day on the mountain.
Unfortunately, the Kea’s penchant for stealing human food can do harm, as they can get sick from certain snacks. They are also vulnerable to predation by stoats, cats, rats, and possums, and the changing alpine environment may leave these beautiful parrots with fewer places to call home.
While the Kea is certainly in need of help, it’s exciting to see this species gain national attention through the Bird of the Year competition.
Why the competition is so important
Each year, the Bird of the Year competition crowns just one of our native birds as the champion. In doing so however, it also brings the media and public’s attention to many of our natives, especially those that are in danger and need all the help they can get.
With each new year, our native birds get a boost of attention as conservation groups and members of the public champion their favourite species. Plus, Forest & Bird, the group behind the annual competition, offers the option to donate to your species of choice during the campaign, helping to raise additional funds for each bird.
Last year, the winner was the Kokako, the year before, the Bar Tailed Godwit. While all birds receive some attention each year, the annual winner gets plenty of extra coverage in the media, with information about their status, threats, and more options to donate to their cause. Together, it makes for a fun and exciting annual spotlight on our native birds, where everyone gets to learn a little more about these precious species.
While we don’t see the Kea during our nature tours in New Zealand (as we are not in an alpine environment), we do have the fortune of meeting some of our country’s other native gems. Check out our eco tour options to see which birds you might meet!
New Zealand’s latest and greatest conservation news
Amidst so much negative news, it can be easy to miss all the exciting announcements and developments in the world. Just in case you missed them, here are some of the best pieces of conservation news from New Zealand recently!
Frog population booms after 1080 operation
A successful 1080 operation in Whareorino has seen populations of rats and possums take a nosedive, which has allowed the frog population to increase substantially. In fact, post-operation monitoring programs failed to find any rats at all, and possums were down to just 1 per cent. Recent rainfall has destroyed leftover 1080 bait, and traps have been set to ensure rat numbers remain low.
New enclosures help takahe breeding season
The Department of Conservation has completed two new safe enclosures for takahe at the Burwood Takahe Centre near Hamilton. This means that the six breeding pairs on site now have two new secure areas to raise their chicks throughout spring, which can be a huge boost for the Recovery Programme working to support this precious bird’s growing population.
Coastal marine species get help from the High Court
The High Court backed a 2016 Environmental Court finding saying that regional councils would have the right to protect their marine environment. This means that individual councils can decide to regulate fishing activity and protect native marine species, rather than leaving it up to the government. Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said that the decision could have important consequences for seabirds, penguins, and Maui’s dolphins around New Zealand.
51 black stilt released into the Mackenzie Basin
More than 50 black stilts were released into the Mackenzie Basin in late August, adding to the 60 birds already released in the Tasman Valley earlier in the month. The black stilt is the rarest wading bird in the world, and these recent releases signify big steps in helping the populations improve. In addition to these events, the Department of Conservation is working to control predators in black stilt habitats. In total, it brings the number of birds in the wild up from just 23 to an impressive 106 adult birds.
Kokako enjoys more than a thousand per cent increase since 1990
The kokako is one of New Zealand’s endemic endangered species, and it has seen a population increase of more than a thousand since its low point in 1990. Conservation officers conducted a 1080 drop in 1990 that is credited for saving the population, and continued efforts to reduce predators and encourage breeding has seen the species go from just five pairs up to 60 pairs, plus 29 single birds. The kokako is known for its haunting birdsong, and conservation minister Maggie Barry is excited and hopeful for the future of this special species.
As a company that lives and breathes birds, plantlife, and marine life, Habitat Tours celebrates every conservation success around New Zealand and the world. Join us on a New Zealand eco tour so we can show you some of our favourite spots and species.
What can you do to help conservation?
Many people know that conservation is vital to help some of our most precious plant and wildlife species thrive, and sometimes even just survive. But not everyone knows just how to go about it.
It can certainly be tough to get involved when you don’t know where to start, so here are a few ways you can do your bit for conservation!
Volunteering is perfect for those with a little time to spare, even if it’s only one day a month. You don’t need piles of money or specific conservation skills, simply a can-do attitude and the desire to help!
Here in Auckland, we at Habitat Tours often volunteer for the Tawharanui Open Sanctuary Society (TOSSI). Not only do they do a wonderful job offering our endangered species a safe home, Tawharanui is one of the spots we visit on day tours from Auckland. On the first Sunday of every month, anyone is welcome to help out with a range of activities such as helping in the nursery, monitoring species, checking traplines and the fence, admin and more. You can learn more here.
For ways to volunteer around New Zealand, take a look at the opportunities available on Conservation Volunteers.
Are you short on time but have a little cash to spare? Making a one-off donation, or setting up a monthly payment, may be a great option for you.
Plus, it’s a wonderful way to target your funds so you know what it’s going to. There are a huge range of conservation projects happening around New Zealand (and the world) every day, and all of them could always do with a little more funding.
Kiwis for Kiwi is a great organisation that focuses on the protection of our iconic kiwi, and their donation options give you examples of what your money will go towards. For example, just $50 provides a full health check on a captive-born kiwi before it’s released into the wild.
For more donation ideas, check out this wonderful list of conservations programs that accept donations from the Department of Conservation.
Choose eco-friendly products
Finally, everyone buys products and experiences sometimes, so even if you don’t have much cash or time to spare, you can still help conservation by choosing eco-friendly products.
This can be anything from recycled-paper napkins, to products from companies that actively donate or support conservation projects. Perhaps it’s food products that have been sustainably farmed, or wood furniture that’s made from recycled timbers or fast-growing trees that can be replanted again and again. Or perhaps that’s even tour companies who focus on the environment as part of their ‘raison d’etre’!
The more you start looking for companies that offer a more eco-friendly product range, the more you will find, so start asking about your options the next time you’re out shopping, or research online to see if the company works to help the environment.
Reasons to take a nature tour in New Zealand
New Zealand is a country that’s brimming with tour options, from film set locations to cultural tours and more.
It can be tough to choose, but it can also be tough to go past the option of a New Zealand nature tour. After all, the country’s tag line is ‘100% Pure’.
Here are the top reasons to opt for a New Zealand eco tour while you’re in town!
To see the range of endemic species
For those interested in flora and fauna, there are few places in the world like New Zealand. Here, more than 80 per cent of the 2,500 species of flowering plants, conifers, and ferns, are endemic, meaning you won’t find them anywhere else.
New Zealand is also known as the seabird capital of the world, and our range of flightless birds – including the famous kiwi – is unlike anywhere else.
This range of endemic species is thanks to New Zealand’s isolation from the rest of the world.
To get out of the main cities
Auckland is the City of Sails, Wellington is the ‘Coolest Little Capital’, and Christchurch is a city in the midst of an incredible rebuild. While all three are worth a visit, there’s nothing quite like getting out of the main centres of a country and exploring the heart of a country in the wilderness.
With Habitat Tours, you’ll either head out to the Waitakere Ranges to the west of Auckland city, or you’ll go north to the Tawharanui Regional Park. Neither of these spots are the kind of places you’d ever get to see if you stuck to the main city.
To see the awesome New Zealand scenery
New Zealand’s scenery is world-renowned, with many people heading to our shores purely to see the sights they’ve heard about and dreamt of.
A nature tour in New Zealand won’t just introduce you to our flora and fauna – it will also ensure you get a few additional tastes of the types of views that make this country so famous for its landscapes.
To do something active
Holiday priorities often focus on seeing sights, trying delicious new foods, and sampling local beers and wines. This can mean that you’ve left your good habits and active routines at home!
Taking a nature tour during your time in New Zealand will help ensure you get out and enjoy a couple of hours of walking, so you won’t head home feeling too sluggish.
To see things many New Zealanders won’t see
It’s a fact of life that many of us will never properly explore our own backyards quite as much as visitors do. After all, when an attraction is always there, there’s never any rush to see it.
That’s why many New Zealanders won’t even get the chance to see a kiwi in the wild, as you might during a Tawharanui night-time tour. It’s also why many won’t get the chance to spot a wild morepork, or even listen to the song of the tui in the wild.
The top 7 tips for hiking in New Zealand
New Zealand is undoubtedly one of the top hiking destinations in the world. From the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South, there are countless treks you can try, including the famous ‘Great Walks’, plenty of popular ones and many that barely even have names.
If you’re looking at hiking in Aotearoa, keep these tips in mind to help make it a safe and fantastic experience.
1. Pack for all weather conditions
As a small island nation, New Zealand is known for hosting four seasons in a day. It’s entirely possible to be walking through a freezing rain storm one minute, then be walking through warm sunshine an hour or two later. Even if you’re only hiking for a day or two, be sure to check the weather forecast and pack for all conditions just in case.
2. Plan your route
Be sure to map out your route before you set foot on it. Take a look at the way you want to go, as there are often several tracks interwoven with one another. Plan where you will stop for the night each night and factor in time spent resting or enjoying the scenery. This will help give you realistic goals each day and ensure you don’t wander off course.
3. Tell someone where you’re going
Once you have your route, pass on your plans to a trusted friend. If you can, keep them updated of your progress and let them know once you’re finished the walk. This person will be your safety net should you not arrive at your destination as expected.
4. Bring spare socks
A truism for hikers all over the world – always bring spare socks! There’s nothing like a fresh clean pair after yours get sweaty, dirty or wet, and it can greatly increase your comfort on those long days.
5. If you get lost, stay in one place
In the worst case scenario of getting lost, always stay in once place. This will help emergency services track you down much faster.
6. Make the most of hut books
The Department of Conservation manages a series of hiking huts all over the country on many of the multi-day tracks. These huts offer places to stay (when you book in advance), rest stops, and ‘hut books’. These books are simply journals for passing hikers to enter their names and details, and it’s recommended to enter yours even if you’re not staying the night to create a literal paper trail of your movements.
7. Take plenty of photos
Once you’ve covered all your bases for safety and comfort, all that’s left to do is enjoy the incredible scenery and experiences along the way! A good camera can help you capture much of New Zealand’s wonderful landscapes, so be sure to charge the batteries and get snap happy.
Of course, you can also opt to keep it simple and join us for an eco tour from Auckland, where we get out of the city and explore the nearby landscapes on foot!
Why you should try ‘forest bathing’
It’s undeniable that getting out and enjoying nature has an amazing effect – it’s simply hard not to feel great when you’re walking amongst beautiful scenery, away from the rush of the city, and in the presence of chirruping birds and rustling leaves.
But did you know that the Japanese have a name for it? And not only that, it became part of their national public health program in the 80s.
It’s called ‘forest bathing’, and it’s simply the act of being in the presence of trees.
There has even been a number of scientific studies to determine the effect of being amongst trees and nature. In one Japanese study from the Chiba University, researchers looked at a number of physiological factors from study participants who spent time amongst trees.
They found that forest environments lowered blood pressure, the pulse rate, concentrations of cortisol and more. Basically, those who participated in the study were less stressed and more relaxed.
As well as being less stressed, it appears that being amongst trees can actually improve your immune system. This is thanks to the essential oils, known as phytoncide, emitted by trees and other plants to protect themselves from insects and harmful germs.
Although, we hardly needed science to convince us that being amongst the beautiful kauri trees, lancewoods, and beech trees simply feels incredible. It’s not just that you’re getting away from the city, it’s also the stillness and freshness of the forest that makes it so special.
How Forest & Bird defended New Zealand conservation
New Zealand conservation group Forest & Bird has recently celebrated a major win in the Supreme Court. The new ruling states that the country’s publicly owned conservation lands and forest parts are safe from being disposed of for the interests of private developments.
The case stems from an earlier decision from August 2016 when the Department of Conservation decided to downgrade the conservation status of a section of the Ruahine Forest Park in Hawke’s Bay. The change would have meant that this part of the park would have been swapped for private land and flooded, but Forest & Bird managed to successfully challenge the move.
This new win is a continuation of that case, after the Minister of Conservation went to the Supreme Court to overturn the 2016 decision and allow the downgrade of status in the park. Forest & Bird once again successfully defended the conservation land.
The section of land in question was a 22-hectare plot that is home to the New Zealand falcon, long-tailed bats, the fernbird, and other species. By keeping the land out of the hands of developers, these species, and the rare wetlands they live in, can continue to flourish.
Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague was at the forefront of the fight to defend the conservation land.
“This decision is wonderful news for Ruahine and all Forest Parks around the country. New Zealanders have fought for generations to defend our conservation land and now we have legal confirmation that are protected from private development interests,” he explained.
Fortunately, the Supreme Court acted on behalf of all those who love to get out and enjoy the country and its wildlife, whether that’s with us on New Zealand nature tours or with friends on a hike through any of our stunning landscapes.
The 5 best things about New Zealand in spring
It’s springtime in New Zealand, and it’s hard to imagine a better place to be.
From the weather to the scenery to the food, there are countless amazing things to enjoy in New Zealand at this time of year. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting in spring, you can be sure to look forward to a few of these sights and experiences!
1. The cute lambs
It’s a quintessential sight around New Zealand from August through to October – fluffy white lambs frolicking around fields all over the country.
No matter where you’re headed, it’s likely you’ll drive past countless cute lambs during your travels. Even for locals, it’s a special sight every single year. Of course, you may also spot calves and foals in fields up and down New Zealand.
2. The new ferns in the Waitakere Ranges
Spring is a huge time of excitement and growth in the plant world, and one of the most gorgeous sights is that of the tiny new ferns popping up all over the Waitakere Ranges.
Come with us on a New Zealand eco tour to the Waitakere Ranges and we’ll help you find some of these vibrant new ferns, including the iconic ponga – the silver fern.
3. The gorgeous weather
The rainy and cold months are over, but it’s not yet the height of summer – springtime in New Zealand brings with it fresh and crisp mornings, warm and sunny days, and the perfect conditions for getting out and exploring.
In Auckland, the temperature will usually sit around the high teens (Celsius) most days, so you can get out on a walk or an adventure without getting too hot or too cold.
4. The fresh produce
With a new season comes a new crop of fresh fruits and vegetables, and it doesn’t get much better than locally grown produce.
You can look forward to Hass avocados, juicy strawberries, tasty asparagus, mounds of boysenberries, and sweet tangelos. If you’re in town, you’ll find these tasty treats in the supermarkets, but one of the best ways to buy them is from honesty boxes on roadsides, where people leave bags of produce at the gate, and you simply pay by leaving the cash in the box.
5. The wildflowers
When the sun comes out in springtime New Zealand, so too do the wildflowers. The scenery around the country is already some of the best in the world, but a smattering of brightly coloured blooms just makes it all the more spectacular.
The pink and purple lupins in Tekapo are some of the most well known, but you’ll be able to spot wildflowers up and down the country. In west Auckland, you can see South African wildflowers at the Waikumete Cemetery, and if you get the chance to visit the Chatham Islands, you might even spot forget-me-nots in bloom.
Conservation roadmap released for the next 20 years
The New Zealand government has recently released its roadmap for conservation and environment science, which will cover the next 20 years.
Its main purpose is to identify areas of scientific knowledge that the government needs that will help with decision making in the areas of environmental policy and conservation. Long-term, it is hoped that it will help address any current policy gaps, reduce duplication between departments with similar goals, and improve research coordination throughout the country.
There are six themes to the roadmap, each of which will play its role in the future of New Zealand. These are; environmental monitoring and data management, Matauranga Maori, climate change, biosecurity, integrated ecosystems and processes, and social and economic factors.
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry spoke about the road map at the recent annual Bluegreens forum, saying “we need to focus our research efforts on innovative technologies and take the long view if we want to improve New Zealand’s sustainability and resilience in the face of increasing conservation challenges”.
The map was created by taking account of a number of factors such as existing policies, international obligations, government objectives, as well as public feedback on future research policies from a formal consultation process last year.
Of course, New Zealand has set some challenging and exciting goals, such as one to become predator-free by 2050, and another to grow the population of kiwis to 100,000 by 2030. Initiatives such as this roadmap are essential to help such goals come to fruition, and to keep conservation a main driver for policy decisions.
You can read more about the road map on the website for the Ministry of the Environment here.
NZ warned penguins in peril
New Zealand conservation group Forest & Bird has released a dire warning for the government, saying that the country’s penguins are “in crisis”.
It’s not just our penguins that are in trouble, either. As many as 10 of the 18 penguin species around the planet are currently at risk of extinction. Sadly, five of those species live in New Zealand.
Forest & Bird have already joined an international campaign to help these at-threat penguins, and has called on the New Zealand government to create a plan to protect them.
“We are urging the New Zealand government to establish a national Penguin Recovery Group,” explained Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague.
The group would function in the same way as the Kiwi Recovery Group, which has been very successful. Essentially, the group’s main focus would be to facilitate and coordinate a collaborative effort for penguin conservation.
Currently, there are just 1,700 breeding pairs of the yellow-eyed penguin, which is the second-rarest species in the world. They have already seen significant drops in population figures over the past few years, largely due to disease, introduced predators, and trawl and set nets.
As for the Fiordland crested penguin, there are an estimated 3,000 breeding pairs remaining. In the past year alone, an entire colony of 150 pairs were wiped out at Jackson Head on the West Coast by stoats.
New Zealand has recently set a goal to eradicate pests completely by the year 2050, which should help improve the numbers of penguins around the country, as well as a large variety of other species that you would see on NZ nature tours.
However, Forest & Bird is looking for a more direct approach to penguin conservation. The group has joined 120 other BirdLife partner organisations with 10 million members around the world, and hopes that the government will also commit to a strategy that will benefit our penguins’ survival.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist